Culture Pick: “Hocus Pocus 2” Ushers in the Halloween Season with Nostalgia and Updated Humor

Rachel Seale, Contributing Writer

Almost 30 years after the Halloween cult classic “Hocus Pocus” put a spell on fans, the Sanderson sisters make their return to Salem in Disney’s “Hocus Pocus 2.” The highly anticipated sequel was released on Disney+ on Friday, Sept. 30. 

The movie opens with the backstory of the Sanderson sisters, Sarah, Winfred and Mary, who are young, misunderstood girls living in Puritan Salem in 1653. After a young Winifred rejects the boy who Reverend Traske has arranged for her to marry, she is banished from Salem. 

Traske tries to separate Winnie from her sisters, but instead they flee to the Forbidden Forest, where they meet Mother Witch, played by Hannah Waddingham. She gifts Winnie her spellbook for her 16th birthday, but warns her to not use the spell Magicae Maxima, which will make the witch all powerful. 

The movie flashes forward to present day Salem, where it has been 29 years since the Sanderson sisters wreaked havoc on the town after being resurrected by Max Dennison and the black flame candle. 

It’s Halloween night and also the main protagonist, Becca’s, sixteenth birthday. She and her friends, Izzy and Cassie, always perform a birthday ritual with magical spells on Halloween night. However, Cassie has become distant as a result of her new relationship with her boyfriend. 

Becca and Izzy visit the Sanderson sisters’ former cottage, where a man named Gilbert now runs a magic shop.

Gilbert gives the girls a special candle to use for their ritual. When Becca lights the candle, the Sanderson sisters return to Salem. To the girls’ chagrin, they realize Gilbert has tricked them into lighting another black flame candle, which has just been lit by a virgin, bringing the witches back to life. 

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy reprise their roles as the Sanderson sisters after being resurrected by singing “The Witches are Back.” Becca and Izzy try to trick the witches into using beauty products at Walgreens to obtain youth instead of stealing it from children; however, the witches soon realize the trickery. 

The witches end up trapping the girls in the dungeon of their cottage and set out to perform Magicae Maxima despite Mother Witch’s warning and the book’s reluctance to open at the mention of the spell. The girls manage to escape, but Winnie has already forced Gilbert into finding the ingredients for the spell, which include the head of a lover and an enemy’s blood. 

Gilbert digs up Billy Butcherson, who is reprised by Doug Jones. Butcherson says he has been awake in his grave since 1993 and is still enraged with the witches’ lie that he was Winnie’s lover after sharing only one kiss when they were young.

Meanwhile, the Sanderson sisters hunt for Cassie’s father, Mayor Traske, as he is descended from their enemy, Reverend Traske. The trio also enters a Sanderson sister costume contest, which showcases a few stars from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” dressed as the infamous witches. 

A wild and spellbinding chase ensues as Cassie reunites with her friends to stop the witches, and finally, Becca discovers something about herself that will alter her life forever.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie fell short of the original after receiving a Tomatometer score of 62% and an audience score of 52%. According to Collider and the New York Post, fans and critics had mixed reactions with some praising the familiar hokey, nostalgic feeling of the film while others criticized the plot and acting. 

Most of the movie is wink-wink references to the old one: In a meta moment, Winifred (Midler) watches a millennial couple as they watch the film on the couch,” Johnny Oleksinski said in a review in the New York Post. “And the town of Salem puts on a Sanderson Sisters costume contest in which a trio of drag queens from ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ beat the genuine article.”

Many parents also were conflicted with allowing young children to see a movie that portrays teens practicing witchcraft. According to Movieguide, Christian parents should consider not allowing their children to watch the movie due to the depiction of pagan rituals. 

According to IMDb, the film is rated PG for action, macabre humor and some language.

With a few plot twists, a post-credit scene and a new soundtrack, including “One Way or Another,” the Halloween season has officially arrived with the return of the Sanderson sisters.